29 August 2006

The Gift of Giving Challenge

Today, I'm issuing a challenge to anyone who reads this blog: help me to fulfill a wish for a school affected by Hurricane Katrina! I've picked out a request from Donors Choose.com that I think we can work together to fulfill. I get about 30 hits on my site every day -- if each person that hits would donate $10, we would fulfill this goal in one day!

If you can't donate $10, how about $5? Even $1 will get us a step closer to fulfilling the request. Here's the link, or you can click on the graphic below for more details.

Watch the thermometer in the menu on the right side of my blog to see how we're doing! And tell your friends and family to help out! Let's see how fast we can make a difference in the lives of children and hospital patients in Biloxi, Mississippi.

There's too much French in my head

I totally thought I had won a particularly close match of Scrabble against Colin tonight. I had to skip a turn, but it paid off -- he played a U tile right out in the open, and I could finally get rid of my Q tile.

I spelled que. Yep, a French word.

I lost, but only because I couldn't play my &^%#* Q tile, and as such had 10 points deducted from my final score.

All of these languages (yes, all two of them) are cluttering up my mind! When I play Scrabble, I can only think of French words! Argh!!

And to think, I'm planning to start learning Italian in the next year or so. I wonder what that will do to my French, much less my English? *sigh*

The other bit of culture shock (I guess) was when we went out to eat with our friends Monica and Ben this evening. They beat us to the restaurant (because we were in the middle of the aforementioned Scrabble game and lost track of time). When we arrived, the waitress asked if we were meeting someone, which we were ... but before we even got to the table where our friends were already seated, she asked us what we wanted to drink! Good grief, are we Americans so parched that we must have a beverage within mere seconds of arriving at any given location? I panicked and ordered a Coke, just so that the decision-making process was narrowed down.

Hey, at least I didn't say, "Un coca, s'il vous plait."

27 August 2006

Aw come on, I don't need this!

So, I just got back from Meijer about 30 minutes ago (think Super WalMart, for those of you not in the upper Midwest or whatever region Michigan is a part of these days). Among other things, I was looking for a new toy for Didge because he could use something fun to enjoy indoors. Our favorite kennel, Arbor Hills, said that they blow bubbles for him, so I thought that would be a good and cheap option to entertain him.

As such, I was browsing the toy section of Meijer, trying to find the bubble stuff. I basically walked up and down the aisles because I didn't know what it would be grouped with.

Then, it happened: A toy robot puppy whined at me. It was the saddest little electronic whimper I've ever heard!

Come on, toy makers of the world, it's hard enough to go to the Humane Society and not come home with a new pet. Don't give me a guilt trip over a plastic dog!! Using a motion sensor to have your product cry when you pass it up? That's a low blow.

(By the way, HSHV is having a 20% off sale on adoptions right now ... go find yourself a *real* friend today!)

26 August 2006

Top Ten French Blogs

Miss reading about my exploits in Paris? Here are some substitute blogs for you. Paris Daily Photo seems pretty cool.

24 August 2006

Stumbling through the big trip (Part III)

When last we left our travelers, they had just abandoned their horribly tortured and abused dog in favor of airport security. (In case you need to catch up on our return trip home, here are the links to part one and part two.)

Even prior to the "no liquids on board" days, there was no lack of security in Charles de Gaulle airport. In fact, my theory is that they are single-handedly trying to combat the high unemployment rate by hiring hundreds of people and positioning them in arbitrary spots to check IDs and plane tickets. If we hadn't been so stressed about being bumped to stand-by status, we probably would have laughed at the absurdity. I swear, we'd walk about 10 to 15 steps down a hallway, and two airport personnel would stop us and ask for IDs and plane tickets. It's not like we were going through a security gate or checkpoint -- it could have been anywhere. In fact, I'm surprised that they didn't check my credentials when I stopped to buy a bottle of water.

Anyway, we got through security just fine, and followed signage through a maze of hallways and personnel until we got to ... a door to the parking lot. "You've got to be kidding me," I thought. Nope, at this point, we showed our IDs and tickets, and then boarded a shuttle bus to take us to the next stage in our journey!

Once we got off the bus and wove through more hallways, we finally found the counter for stand-by passengers to check in. We make a beeline for the counter and begin to plead our case for getting on to the flight. (If only I had had a picture of Didge making big brown eyes at the camera...) The folks at the counter were nice, but they couldn't tell us anything for another 20 or so minutes (I've forgotten the actual length of time, but it wasn't terrifically long). The minutes dragged onward, and finally, we were able to ask again.

After clarifying to the airline employees that we were not staff members (to which they replied, with surprise, "Then why are you flying stand-by?" Aaaaargh!!), we finally got word that there were two free seats on the plane. We made it! I can't even begin to describe the relief that rushed over both of us. We had been strategizing about who would go on the first flight if only one of us could get on, but that, obviously, was not ideal. Now, we didn't have to worry about it.

As a side note, we were as polite and patient as we could be throughout this whole ordeal. As for the family next to us who had also been bumped to standby ... well, let's just say, I think they spent a heck of a lot more time at CDG than we did that day. (It pays to be nice to the people in charge.)

Fortunately, once we were comfortably seated on our desired flight, we were good to go for the rest of the trip home. Didge popped out on the other side of the Atlantic without any major injuries, and we realized just how easy it is to get through customs when you speak the same language as the agent. (Not that we didn't spend a good 10-15 minutes mentally preparing for a French conversation while waiting in line ... some habits die hard!)

Thus endeth our tour de France.

Waaaaaahhh! When can I go back??

23 August 2006

New Day, New Attitude

To answer everyone's question from my previous post -- yes, I did contact the person who was in charge of hiring at that job. The response was a form letter rejection, so I'm definitely out of the running. I'm not taking it personally, though. I think I've discovered the root of the problem, and I'm going to take care of it before my next interview. Sorry, I really can't go into details on the blog, but rest assured that all is well now.

Stephanie reminded me that we haven't finished the story of our return to the US from France. I don't have enough free time to do that right now, but I'll get it done shortly.

In the meantime, here is one of my favorite pictures. This sunflower grew out of a crack in the cement porch at our last apartment in Ann Arbor. It was such a weird fluke! Of course, someone probably had a bird feeder before us and a seed got stuck in there, but I was amazed that it rooted and actually grew into something incredibly beautiful. So, I'm taking my inspiration from this. It doesn't matter if you're stuck between a rock and a hard place - literally or figuratively. You can still come out smelling like roses. (Or sunflowers, if you prefer!)

22 August 2006

A blow to the ego

Ouch. I'm not sure what went wrong, but something clearly did. I interviewed twice for a position at the university, and after the second interview, the woman in charge told me that I was her top candidate. She even admitted that she rushed me through a second interview because she didn't want to lose the opportunity to hire me. Last week passed without any further information, which made me a little nervous ... but guess what? The job is reposted on the internet.

So, not only did I *not* get the job, but I didn't even get beat out by someone else! What the heck happened between interview #2 and now? I either said something really stupid in the second interview, or one of my references isn't being as helpful as I'd like to believe. I suspect that it is the former because I had already given my references to the woman in charge after my first interview. So, in theory, she would have called my references before calling me back for a second interview.

Yep, I'm feeling really awesome right now! *sigh*

20 August 2006

No news is ... well, no news!

No news on the job front this week, other than a self-perceived successful interview on Wednesday. I thought it went really well, and the job sounds very interesting. Here's hoping that I make the second round of interviews. I'm supposed to hear either way in the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, I don't have a job offer from the place that I interviewed twice, which is OK. (Gives me time to stall on the job I interviewed for this week.)

Colin and I joined Joe, Kate, and Jack for a trip to the Eastern Market today. Other than being "somewhere" in the Detroit suburbs, I have no idea where we were. (I'm sure Colin will chime in and clarify.) We didn't end up buying much: a bouquet of cut flowers and some herbs to start a small herb garden. Still, it was fun to be out and about, and nice to see reasonably priced produce for a change!

Didge is slowly driving us insane with his excessive barking fits. I'm not sure what has him so unsettled, but he just barks all the time! It doesn't seem to matter how much exercise or attention we give him -- he still goes off like crazy. I'm hoping that the second round of de-worming treatment that we're going to start this week will help him feel better. Ideally, I'd like to get him into another obedience class, or maybe an agility class. I'm sure he's bored to tears laying around the apartment all day. Goodness knows I am!!

The only other thing occupying our time is the ongoing bookshelf project. I'm not sure if I've mentioned this in a previous blog, but Colin decided to buy two bookshelf kits from Lowe's and stain them himself. As it turns out, this is not any cheaper than buying real bookshelves, and is actually a HUGE time-consuming pain. We've only got one of four parts done because the humidity has been so high. (Nothing wants to dry all the way when it's humid.) Joe and Kate may never get their garage back at this rate, since we're using it for this little project-gone-horribly-awry.

So, as the days tick by and the bank account balance drops, I find myself more and more eager to be employed. I'm sure that I'll change my mind when I lose all of my free time, but for the moment, I find myself stir-crazy. If I still had my digital camera (sigh), I could at least go out and take pictures! But, no big purchases can be made until we have a steady income (bookshelves excluded, of course).

Ah, Paris, I miss you so!!!

14 August 2006

Random thoughts on a Sunday night

I love this picture of Didge. I took it back in April 2005, when Colin and I had the mutt in a tub at the Dog-O-Mat in Ann Arbor. Needless to say, Didge is not a big fan of bath time. He sort of puts up with it as a necessary evil. After Didge tipped over the kitchen trash can and strung the contents all over the dining room this afternoon, I'm tempted to give him another dose of bath time as sweet, yet gentle revenge!! On the other hand, he does love the hairdryer. I guess there's a bright side to everything when you're a dog.

Colin is currently booking plane tickets to go to his 10-year high school reunion. Looks like we're going through Northwest Airlines, a.k.a. NWA. I don't know about anyone else, but the marketing technique of calling this carrier NWA is ... well, weird. To me, NWA will always refer to a rap group featuring Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, and Easy E. Imagine what it would be like to fly THAT airline! (Out of fear for my own safety, I will refrain from elaborating on this idea in writing.)

Hopefully, Colin's reunion will be a success. I don't think it's nearly as well planned as my 10 year was, but since he went to a bigger school, there should still be a few people there. I have to admit, I'm really hoping to meet an ex girlfriend or two while I'm there! Time to get the dirt on adolescent Colin...

I have another job interview this Wednesday. It's possible that I'll have a job offer this week, too, but it depends on how quickly this particular unit decides to move on their final decision. It would be nice to be employed by the end of the week. As I told my parents on the phone this evening, it's a lot less fun to be unemployed in Ypsilanti than it is in Paris. (Hmm, imagine that!)

My e-mail inbox is empty. Sigh.

12 August 2006

At least I haven't been using a staple gun...

When you move into a new place, you find yourself doing a lot of little "projects" to fix small problems. Unfortunately, despite what I consider to be a reasonably strong intellect, I am not necessarily cut out for do-it-yourself home projects. Case in point: no matter what I'm doing, if I open a bottle of Superglue, I'm going to end up sticking my fingers together. I don't know why this happens, but it always does. Earlier this week, I was trying to "fix" a fake foliage arrangement that had lost a leaf in the moving process. Not only did I fail miserably at reattaching the errant leaves, but I also managed to glue several fingers together. (Folks, that line on the bottle that says, "Bonds instantly to skin" is 100% true and accurate.) Of course, as I know from experience, I can unstick my fingers without too much trouble. Further, I have mastered the art of scraping the excess glue off my fingers. But the real trick is fingernails. Even now, several days later, I have weird lines and bumps all over my thumbnails.

Apparently, however, this isn't good enough. Today, I caved in and decided to help Colin finish his new bookshelves. (He bought kits from Lowe's and is staining them on his own.) I've stained things before, and just couldn't resist getting involved. So, in preparation for the stain itself, we spent today coating the boards with a sealer so that the wood wouldn't absorb too much stain. Careless me, I had a little bit too much sealer on my paintbrush and flipped some onto my knee. "No big deal," I thought. "I'll just find a rag and wipe this off." But, I didn't find one right away, so I forgot about it.

Unfortunately, wood sealer doesn't wash right off with soap and water. Nor does it give way if you try to use your razor to shave it off. So, in addition to lumpy thumbnails, I now have a wrinkly -- yet somewhat shiny -- left knee.

Geez, I hope we get all of our home improvement projects done before I get a job offer. If we start using colors, it's going to be really hard to explain to a new boss. "Um ... so ... you're probably wondering why I have a giant blue dot on my nose ..."

09 August 2006

Starting to feel like home

The last few weeks have been ... hectic, I suppose! We've just had a lot to do, between a great wedding, a new car, visits with old friends, and (oh yea) job hunting. I'll try to sum things up a little bit.

Last Saturday, we went to our friends Ryan and Lisa's wedding. We had a blast! During the day, we managed to catch up over lunch with our friends Claudia and Miguel, and then braved a thunderstorm to go to the wedding itself. It was great to catch up with old friends and see two great people finally tie the knot. The next day, we went up to South Dakota to buy Colin's parents old car so that we have transportation again. After that, it was a two-day drive back to Michigan, stopping off in Sheboygan, WI, to see Katrina's family. (Katrina as in Kat's Korner, as linked to the right.) My only regret was not getting there earlier so that we could have really spent some time catching up! It was still great to see them and finally meet her two adorable boys.

Mixed in with all of this traveling, I've been going on job interviews and trying to unpack. I'm not sure which of these two activities is more successful lately, since I just got turned down for one job today and we still have an entire room of boxes to unpack! On the bright side, I got called back for a second interview on Friday with a small but very nice department at U of M. (I'm not sure whether I should say on the blog the exact places that I'm getting interviews, so I'll stay vague for now.) Besides that, I have a first-round interview next week with a non-LSA department. The job is really intriguing, but will I be happy outside of familiar territory? Guess I'll interview to find out.

The culture shock is largely worn off now -- I am no longer shocked and appalled by the size of drinks (i.e. "That's a small?" or "People still have dessert after this shake?"). It's fairly rare that I can finish a full meal in a restaurant, but I've decided to just accept that and not push to fill my already bulging gut. (I'm referring to my stomach as my "cheese weight" these days ... it had to have been all of that good French cheese that made my waistline expand, right?)

One thing that I'm still struggling with is our washing machine. It finishes a load of clothes so ridiculously fast! I feel like I've just closed the door to the laundry room when I hear the buzzer sound. Plus, it washes so many clothes! Folding laundry takes forever now!!

The other oddity is how much people talk to you here. Man, some people never shut up! On the bus, in the grocery store, on the street ... and they are so loud! One of my odder moments was when a woman saw me pick up a box of brownie mix in the grocery store, after which she felt compelled to tell me that another brand was on sale. I said thanks and switched my choice, but after a moment to grasp what had just transpired, I thought, "Who the heck was that lady? Do I know her? Why is she talking to me?" And smiling ... don't even get me started! What is everyone so happy about? Is my fly down? Do I have a giant piece of chocolate in my teeth?

On the other end of the spectrum, I haven't been quite as mesmerized by TV as Colin has (he'll probably argue with my word choice). Sure, I've watched my fair share of shows -- it is nice to be able to understand everything without making the squinty "I'm trying really hard to understand French" face. Amazingly, Days of our Lives is just as slow and dull as I remember it. I think I'll just stick to reading The Early Edition blog. At least then, I'll know when a good episode is coming on.

People keep asking me if we're starting to feel settled. I can finally say yes, but not because the last of the boxes is out the door. (I wish!) Instead, it's because we hung some of our pictures on the wall this evening. Finally, we've gone from living in a non-descript beige room to a place that looks vaguely familiar. We really like our new apartment/condo/whatever we're supposed to call it. The view isn't quite the same as our last place, but at least it's starting to feel like home.

As for this blog ... the jury is still out on what I'll do on the web once I'm employed. Right now, I'm expecting to use employment as the signal that I'm really not in France anymore, and can wrap up J'habite à Paris! at that time. I think I'll start a new blog, but I'm not yet sure what it will look like. So, I guess you'll just have to stay tuned to see what happens!

02 August 2006

Is anyone else tired?

At long last, our journey has truly come to an end. In the past five days, we have visited 8 different states through 2 plane flights and a heck of a lot of driving! But, we are safely back in Ypsilanti with our new (to us) car and an apartment with boxes that need to be unpacked.

So, where do we go from here? Other than unpacking and de-worming our dog (more on that in a future post), we have a lot of errands to run between various appointments, meetings to catch up with friends, and (hopefully) more job interviews. I had one job interview last Thursday, but I haven't heard anything back yet. Not sure if that's good or bad, since they are trying to decide quickly on who to hire! But, I applied for two more jobs this evening, so the process continues.

For the moment, however, I think I'm going to follow Didge's cue and go to bed for the night. As always, there is much more to come, including the answer to the question, "Are you going to keep up your blog now that you're back in the US?"